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Benz a Consummate Juliet in BalletMet’s Superb ‘Romeo and Juliet’


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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet with Columbus Symphony Orchestra – Romeo and Juliet
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio

April 28-30, 2017 

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Since taking over BalletMet’s artistic leadership in 2010, Edwaard Liang has molded the company into more of a contemporary ballet powerhouse with ballets by himself, Christopher Wheeldon, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Ma Cong and others. With the Columbus premiere of his Romeo and Juliet, April 28-30 at the Ohio Theatre however, Liang asserted BalletMet’s might in classical story ballets as well with a next-level production usually reserved for ballet companies twice its size.

Originally created on Tulsa Ballet in 2012, the 3-act production had opera house-style sets and costumes by David Walker to go with the rich playing of Sergei Prokofiev’s iconic score for the ballet by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson and some of the best classical dancing I’ve seen from the company. In the ballet’s final performance on April 30 however, one light shone above the rest, that of retiring company star Adrienne Benz whose moving performance as Juliet stands with any given anywhere in recent years.

True to Shakespeare’s play and the storyline structure found in most high-level ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet, Liang’s adaptation moved briskly in choreography that was engaging and descriptive. The ballet’s scenes not only told the star-crossed lovers’ familiar story, but captured nicely the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s fictional Verona, Italy setting and its colorful renaissance-era inhabitants.

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(L-R) BalletMet’s Andres Estevez, David Ward and Kohhei Kuwana in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

In typical fashion, Act I introduced us to the feuding Capulet and Montague families including male protagonist Romeo (David Ward), his friend Mercutio (Andres Estevez) and his cousin Benvolio (Kohhei Kuwana) as well as to Juliet’s cousin and antagonist Tybalt, portrayed with icy malice by first-year company member Austin Moholt-Siebert.

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(L-R) BalletMets’ Sarah Wolf, Karen Wing and Kristie Latham in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Frivolity, swordplay and the flirtations of young men and women made for a vibrant opening scene. Most interesting were Liang’s use of three gruff but sexy harlots danced by Kristie Latham, Karen Wing and Sarah Wolf who, when they weren’t pushing around the villagers, fawned over Romeo and his compatriots and even engaged in some of the sword fighting.

Later in the Act, the ballet shifted scenes to Juliet’s bedroom were we get our first glimpse of Benz as Juliet being playful with her nurse and confident (Leigh Lijoi) while making preparations for that evening’s masked ball. Benz appeared to have leapt from the pages of Shakespeare’s play. Her youthful exuberance and joy made you fall in love with her character instantly and her acting skills and technical prowess were stunning.

As in most Romeo and Juliet ballets, the ball was a lavish affair with the aforementioned costumes and sets to match. The trio of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio looking to crash the ball were a bit like the three musketeers in their cocky, cavalier attitudes toward those arriving for the ball. Ward as Romeo appeared straight out of central casting. His princely looks and adroit dancing seemed to charm the audience almost as much as it did Juliet in the scene which played out as most do with the two meeting and falling for each other instantly and Romeo and cohorts clashing with Tybalt and Juliet’s would-be suitor Paris, danced with nobility by BalletMet dancer Attila Bongar who was also making his final appearance with the company.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Bathed in golden light and dreamlike, the famous “balcony scene” that followed to end Act I dripped with romance which Benz and Ward let wash over them as the two lovers who then got drunk on each other’s company.  Within this beautiful setting Liang choreographed a beauty of a pas de deux that contained a wellspring of fabulous lifts and carries to go with the character’s unbridled joy which Benz and Ward captured to perfection in their exquisite dancing of it.

Act II opened with us back in the village’s marketplace with the requisite frolicking and celebrations. Wing, as the village’s most brazen harlot, once again made her presence felt strutting about with the kind of aggressiveness she displayed in the lead role of Carmen in Sansano’s Carmen.maquia in 2016. The act continued with Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio playfully teasing Juliet’s nurse who came to marketplace to deliver a note to Romeo from Juliet about meeting in secret with Friar Lawrence (David Spialter) to wed.  It was another charming scene in a ballet full of them that provided a wonderful counterpoint to the ballet’s drama and tragedy.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Karen Wing in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

As with any great tragedy, happiness comes at a cost and in one of the ballet’s most climactic moments Estevez as Mercutio, who was also making his final appearance with BalletMet, delivered a wonderfully acted and danced performance where he was both hero and jester battling and ultimately perishing at the hands of Tybalt in a swordfight. For his part, Moholt-Siebert as Tybalt nearly stole the scene with a “Joffrey Baratheon” from Game of Thrones kind of contemptibility.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Austin Moholt-Siebert and David Ward in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Carly Wheaton and Austin Moholt-Siebert in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The act then ended with Romeo taking revenge on Tybalt over Mercutio’s death in an unconscious fit of rage, and then guilt, as Lady Capulet (Carly Wheaton) crazed and bereft, stormed the stage and whipped her headdress into the wings in a somewhat over-the-top reaction to Tybalt’s death; suggesting perhaps there relationship was much more than just aunt and nephew.

The ballet’s third act continued the familiar tale with Romeo and Juliet waking in Juliet’s bedroom after assumingly consummating their secret marriage with Romeo still haunted by Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths and Juliet not wanting Romeo to go. The pair engaged in another marvelously-crafted and passionate pas de deux.  Later in the scene, after Romeo’s departure, Juliet’s parents forced the issue of her marriage to Paris and Benz showed more of her brilliance conveying in her every step, gesture and heartbreaking tear, the very essence of Shakespeare’s words on the young heroine’s torn state of emotion.

After seeking solace from Friar Lawrence who gave her a potion to fake her own death, Juliet returned to her bedroom where she was visited by the ghosts of Mercutio, as sort of an angel one shoulder telling her not to take the potion, and Tybalt, the devil on her other shoulder urging to take it, which she does.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The ballet’s final scene at the Capulet family tomb brought the tragic tale to its inevitable conclusion as Romeo and Paris faced off in a knife fight at the alter Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body lay with Romeo the lone survivor. Liang then wrapped up the story and the lover’s fates with a rarely used ending in U.S. productions where Romeo sees Juliet wake up from her fake-death coma seconds before he succumbs to the very real poison he just drank to be with her in the afterlife. What must he be thinking in that brief moment? Ward gave us both elation and resignation in seconds it took for that reunion to play out. Benz then true to her character’s grief and determination to forever be with Romeo grabbed Paris’ knife and ended her own life.

A triumph by most any standard of measure, BalletMet’s Romeo and Juliet with its brisk pacing, easy-to-follow story progression and relatable characters would surely resonate with even the most neophyte dance goer. Add to that finely constructed, world-class choreography, perhaps the best ballet score ever written played with heart by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, rich looking sets and costumes and great dancing led by the spellbinding performances of Benz and Ward, and even the most persnickety of balletomanes would have a hard time resisting the production’s allure.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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New Full-Length Productions highlight Columbus Dance Theatre’s 2015-2016 Season


CDT’s Elena Keeny and Stefani Repola. Photo by Wes Kroninger.

By Steve Sucato

There was good news for Columbus Dance Theatre on the eve of its 18th season. The Columbus, Ohio-based troupe was awarded the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s 2015 award for Artistic Excellence for organizations with budgets less than $1 million for their encore production of Claudel (2014) at the Lincoln Theatre last February.

CDT’s new 2015-2016 season entitled Murder, Movement, Music and More will be a mix of repertory favorites and brand new productions including the world-premieres of artistic director Tim Veach’s Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet Prism. 

Here’s a look:

Dancers Making Dances – October 23-24, 015 @ Fisher Theatre

The season kicks off with the return of Dancers Making Dances, where eight of CDT’s eleven company dancers take a turn at choreographing works on each other. On tap are new creations by Christian Broomhall, Erika Junod, Jaime Kotrba, Terrence Meadows, Chloe Mellblom, Alex Napoli, Stefani Repola and Seth Wilson.

Matchgirl – December 11-12, 2015 @ Lincoln Theatre

CDT’s beloved holiday classic Matchgirl returns for its 16th anniversary year, this season performed for the first time at Columbus’ Lincoln Theatre. The 90-minute family-friendly production based on Hans Christian Anderson’s short story “The Little Match Girl,” tells the tale of dying child’s hopes and dreams that are sadly dashed on earth but realized in the afterlife. Structured like that of a romantic ballet, act one, set to music by Aaron Copland, follows Anderson’s tale of the girl in her village and act two is Veach’s envisioning of her afterlife danced to John Rutter’s “Magnificat.” Some 70 students from The School of Columbus Dance Theatre and CDT’s company dancers will be accompanied by orchestra and chorus conducted by Ohio Wesleyan University’s Associate Professor of Music Jason Hiester for this heartwarming production.

CDT dancers Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi. Photo by Wes Kroninger.

V2 – March 4-5, 2016 @ Fisher Theatre

Father and son unite in V2, featuring dance works by and for CDT artistic director Tim Veach and son Judson, a former School of Columbus Dance Theatre student now a principal dancer with Nashville Ballet. “It’s a collaboration for father and son that I don’t think happens all that often in dance,” says the elder Veach. The father-son team will be joined by CDT resident musical ensemble Carpe Diem String Quartet as Judson reprises the solo “His Own Skin,” choreographed for him by Tim in 2012. Judson then creates for Tim what he refers to as a new “age appropriate” solo for him. Also on the program will be repertory works by Tim and a new group piece by Judson for CDT’s company dancers.

Hamlet Prism [World Premiere] – April 8-9, 2016 @ Fisher Theatre

This new dance work based on the Shakespeare classic Hamlet features a gritty, urban landscape in which Tim Veach, as the voice of Hamlet, wife and actress Christina Kirk, as the voice of the play’s other characters, CDT’s dancers and the Carpe Diem String Quartet bring to life this iconic tale in a way never seen before. Set to an original soundscape by composer Korine Fujiwara, the work follows in the footsteps of CDT’s other recent collaborative dance-theater successes, Cleopatra and Claudel.

Photo by Wes Kroninger.

Romeo and Juliet [World Premiere] – May 20-21, 2016 @ Capitol Theatre

Shakespeare’s timeless tale of two star-crossed lovers is retold in a new evening-length ballet choreographed by Tim Veach. Says Veach: “It will be a fairly traditional take on the Romeo and Juliet story.”  The production will feature guest dancer Judson Veach as Romeo, some 90 students from The School of Columbus Dance Theatre, CDT’s company dancers, other guest dancers and a full orchestra under the baton of maestro Jason Hiester.  “We have dancers of tremendous technical ability who also bring a great depth of theatrical capability,” says Veach. “It feels like the right moment for us (CDT) to take on the fullness of such a production.”

Columbus Dance Theatre
Murder, Movement, Music and More

Season Tickets: $125 –Adult, $100 – Senior (60 and up), $65 – Student
Individual Tickets: $30 – Adult, $25 – Senior (60 and up), $15 – Student

For more information visit columbusdancetheatre.com or call (614) 849-0227

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Burk Shines in Conservatory Dance Company’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’


Cassidy Burk and Hunter Mikles in Nicolas Petrov's "Romeo and Juliet". Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Cassidy Burk and Hunter Mikles in Nicolas Petrov’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Photo by Jeff Swensen.

By Steve Sucato

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company is a student troupe. The company so easily appears like a professional one in contemporary and modern dance works. In its latest production, Nicolas Petrov’s Romeo and Juliet, the unforgiving nature of classical ballet technique was a reminder that CDC’s dancers are indeed still students. Nonetheless, as a student production, the company’s opening-night performance was solidly entertaining, with wonderful sets and colorful costumes.

Originally choreographed for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1971, Petrov’s two-hour ballet in three acts is a traditional telling of Shakespeare’s iconic tale of star-crossed lovers. Credited as the first Romeo and Juliet ballet in the U.S. to use Prokofiev’s marvelously sweeping and romantic score, Petrov’s choreography for it was nicely paced and dense with lively, folk-influenced group dances and sword-play.

The ballet’s storyline plays out as most do, with the first act setting up the bitter rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues. A fiercely angry Nick Fearon, as Tybalt, led the charge, with former PBT dancer Ernest Tolentino as the Duke, demanding calm between the rival camps.

Cassidy Burk and Hunter Mikles in Nicolas Petrov's "Romeo and Juliet". Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Cassidy Burk and Hunter Mikles in Nicolas Petrov’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Photo by Jeff Swensen.

The large cast of knights, lords, ladies and citizens appeared at times a bit sandwiched on the smallish Rockwell Theatre stage, which might have hampered some of the group dancing but did little to stall the sprightly performance of Sean Daly as Romeo’s sidekick Mercutio. Daly’s portrayal was more mischievous Puck than the usual charismatic rogue, but it lent spark to the production. Also of note was the powerfully serious and emotive performance of dancer Rachel Shirley, looking like a dead ringer for Bette Davis.

While much of the cast did their best navigating Petrov’s challenging choreography and emphasis on acting skills, dancer Cassidy Burk as young Juliet shone on both counts. The bright-eyed and endearing dancer had all eyes riveted on her from the moment she stepped onstage. Her brilliant performance alone was worth the price of admission.

Burk and partner Hunter Mikles, as Romeo, provided much of the ballet’s meaty dancing. From their initial meeting at the Capulet ball, through emotional pas de deuxs during the balcony and bedroom scenes and suicidal deaths, the pair — though they could have danced with a bit more passion and abandon — were thoroughly engaging.

Conservatory Dance Company in Nicolas Petrov’s Romeo and Juliet continues through Sun., Dec. 14. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. $18-20. 412-392-8000 or pittsburghplayhouse.com

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  on December 10, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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